A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Money Motivates, But a Dollar is Simply Insulting

School districts ignoring state's merit pay law aren't doing what's best for students, parents or taxpayers

I have a hard time believing that teachers who excel in their classrooms are OK with the single-scale pay system they're forced into thanks to union executives who think longevity is more important than skill. 

And I am confident that good teachers who are "rewarded" with a $1 yearly bonus for being top-notch are insulted by the gesture that their unions and their district's administrators make to satisfy a state law that says merit pay must be a part of teacher compensation.

Yet that’s what's happening in Michigan and if Proposal 2 passes, that state law and at least 169 others will be wiped away or severly modified to benefit unions thanks to their proposal, which would allow government union contracts to overrule laws made by our elected representatives.

The excuses for ignoring the law do a disservice to students, taxpayers and teachers. It's an "unfunded mandate," some said. "We didn't have time to figure it out," other district officials said.

The law, which Democrat former Gov. Jennifer Granholm supported and signed, doesn't say school districts need to come up with more money to reward teachers. It means they have to take a new look at an antiquated salary system and figure out a way to pay their best teachers more than their worst teachers.

Union officials and administrators who continue to claim a fair system can't be created aren't really trying. 

And the superintendents who said they didn't have time to figure it out aren’t being completely honest, either. Many had more than a year to make it happen. They chose short-term labor peace over long-term reform.

That never works and you need only look toward the auto industry to see how well that philosophy has worked out.

That's not to suggest that negotiating with the state's teachers unions is easy. The Michigan Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers throw up roadblocks at the mere mention of change.

About 80 percent of school district contracts recently reviewed by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy ignore the law. Others offer so-called merit pay of a buck or two. If Proposal 2 passes, the unions will take that dollar back, guaranteed.

School officials who are unwilling to seriously address the state law should ask parents if they'd rather pay more to the longest-tenured, bad teacher than the exceptional, new teacher simply because the former has occupied a classroom longer.

They won't be surprised by the answer. Parents want the best teachers in front of their kids and they want teachers to be paid well and treated respectfully.

I've never met anyone who "hates" teachers or is "against teachers and kids having more resources in the classroom" as the state's teachers unions claim whenever someone supports reform.

But I've met plenty of parents who are fed up with the rules that prohibit innovation and excellence from blossoming in the public schools.

A $1 reward doesn't motivate any professional to excel, but it certainly insults them and the important job they do. 

Meet James Hohman, Assistant Director of Fiscal Policy at the Mackinac Center. James discusses his latest project, an analysis of Proposal 1, the proposal on personal property tax reform that will appear on the August 5th ballot. Read more about Proposal 1 here: http://www.mackinac.org/20246


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